1. The big theme that jumps out to me this season is the amount of depth at quarterback.
...Especially if Kyle Orton gets traded to Seattle or Arizona. In particular, the trio of Matt Ryan, Sam Bradford and Tim Tebow, I think, are bound to provide a gigantic boost to the position. I think all three will rival the numbers posted by the quarterbacks housed in the 5-to-8 range (in other words, I'd rather wait and take Bradford or Tebow than take a Peyton Manning/Tom Brady in the high-mid range). Matt Stafford can also provide a huge boost if he stays healthy and doesn't faceplant.
I can all but guarantee that I'll wait on QBs in every league I'm in this year. I've grown fond of this approach over the years anyway, as I prefer to have two similar, non-elite QBs who I can rotate based on matchup rather than investing heavily in a top guy and then being all but forced to start them regardless of matchup. But because of those four guys I mentioned, I'm kind of militant about the approach this year.
-On Ryan: He averaged 7.9 yards per attempt as a rookie, but dropped to 6.5 the last two years. But he threw 571 passes last year, a number that would push him over 4,500 yards if he could regain that 7.9 average. Between the addition of Julio Jones and the natural progression talented QBs like Ryan tend to show around this time in their careers, I'm confident that Ryan can make it close to 4,500 this year.
-On Bradford: I found Bradford very impressive last year and, while I know the narrative is that STL has no wideout talent, I really love the supporting cast that the Rams have built for him. Most NFL teams are envious of Rodger Saffold and Jason Smith at tackle, while the team's receivers are the deepest in the league and very well-rounded. Tight end Lance Kendricks is a player that most people missed the memo on, but he, too will be a standout player I think, though not necessarily as a rookie. Anyway, Bradford is one of the league's most accurate passers playing for an offensive coordinator who made Kyle Orton a standout fantasy QB. Bradford is a far greater talent on a team with a comparable supporting cast.
-On Tebow: His game is comically unorthodox, but how can you argue with the results from last year? He was hit-or-miss as a passer, but he still made big plays and managed to resist turnovers. The big selling point with him, of course, is his running ability. Unlike a Michael Vick or Donovan McNabb, I'm not going to get too worried about injuries with Tebow. He's an absolute tank and I think he'll have no trouble taking off for 10 or more rushes per game, in which case I think he'd go for at least 700 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground. Kyle Orton is obviously a huge obstacle, but I still can't see Denver leaving Tebow on the bench.
Part of the issue here is the distinction between what the Lions plan to do and what courses of action will actually be available to them. They might think they want to make Best their workhorse, but history says it's not up to them. It seems like a near certainty that Best will get hurt. It's a shame, but the guy just can't stay healthy and he never has. He has had repeated issues with toe injuries and concussions over the last three years, and it's known that he played through ankle, elbow and hip problems at California, too. Best hasn't actually missed much game time and so it's safe to assume he's tough as nails, but toughness doesn't mean much when you're averaging 3.2 yards per carry.
I realize the hype on Leshoure died off a bit when he went after all of Mark Ingram, Ryan Williams and Shane Vereen in the draft, but I'd still take him over all those guys. He's a strong runner with really, really quick feet, and he has the skills to eventually turn into a skilled receiver, too. I'm avoiding Best outside of PPR leagues this year, while Leshoure is ideally an RB3 in 12-team standard scoring leagues.
I'm still ranking Finley behind all of Gates, Clark and Davis this year, but I'm aware of the argument to rank him higher.
(A) He's a rare athlete
(B) He plays with a top-five QB
(C) He plays in a pass-happy offense
The logic is definitely compelling. I'm just puzzled why the same thinking hasn't seemed to catch on with Graham. Rare athlete? Graham is probably more athletic than Finley. His quarterback is Drew Brees, and Jeremy Shockey is gone. And no team in the league throws it as much as New Orleans.
What am I missing here?
4. Miles Austin is underrated.
Honestly, I can't see how anyone would argue that Austin shouldn't be a top-three selection at receiver this year. His numbers while playing with Tony Romo are unmatched league-wide.
Is it that people still suspect he's a flash in the pan? If so, I'm not really sure what to say other than that's wrong. He's an exceptional talent and a skilled all-around workhorse of a receiver. There's really nothing he can't do and I think that's abundantly evident when he's on the field with Romo.
Is it that people think Dez Bryant will steal his work? I suppose it's possible. But I really doubt it at the same time. I don't think Bryant will ever be as good of a player as Austin, and truth is that Romo and Austin work exceptionally well together. Their rapport is not easily duplicated. I think Bryant's production will come at the expense of Jason Witten and Roy Williams.
The only thing that can disrupt Austin's numbers is injuries. Admittedly, this is a totally legitimate concern. Austin had a lot of injury issues early in his career, while Romo's tomfoolery obviously leaves him vulnerable to injury, too. And Romo is an indispensable premise in the argument for Austin. But for me, the bottom line remains: I'd rather take Austin and the injury risks between him and Romo than Larry Fitzgerald, whose best-case scenario is playing with Kyle Orton, or Hakeem Nicks, who's more of an injury concern than Austin and Romo combined.
5. Felix Jones might be underrated, too.
Don't get me wrong–the guy is allergic to the end zone and few players are greater injury worries. But I still think Felix Jones is looking like a potential bargain this year.
Admittedly, this is based almost strictly on intuition. But I've seen Felix play a long time now, and I saw a clearly different player a year ago. In his Arkansas days and first couple years in the league, Felix basically was a guy whose entire career consisted entirely of running full speed almost all the time. Life was simple: He'd get the ball in space, and he would run through the space.
Last year and at the end of the 2009 season, however, he was asked to not only be a guy who runs through open space, but also an NFL running back. There are obviously many differences, and he initially struggled with the change. But last year I think the transformation occurred–instead of the reckless, all-out sprinting style of play he showed in his entire career up to that point, he showed more caution and self-awareness. He'd brace for contact and set his feet when a tackler approached, whereas early in his career he would carelessly sprint onward in a tall stride (and get sent flying as a result).
In any case, the big idea here is that I see a player who's still improving and has the talent to do big things if such improvement occurs. Felix has always been an eager, hard-working player, but that self-awareness I mentioned is something new. He was always an oblivious runner up until recently. I think he has the look of a player who's really finding himself in a new role and is poised to do something with it.
Don't be overly concerned with his YPC drop last year. He was, after all, the only Dallas runner averaging over four yards per carry, so the decrease in the average was more indicative of the overall dysfunction of the Dallas offense than anything to do with Felix. And let me be clear: Tashard Choice is not as good. If Felix is going to disappoint this year, Choice is not the reason why.
DeMarco Murray is a bigger concern for Felix's numbers, I think. Murray is already one of the league's best pass-catchers at running back, so that could obviously pose a threat to the promising receiving production Felix showed last year.
My final thought on this: As I said previously, I'm guilty of thinking with my gut on this one. It's difficult for me to articulate why I think Felix will exceed expectations this year, particularly when you consider how I don't expect him to be a significant TD source, as well as the fact that I think Murray threatens his reception numbers. But I'm still expecting, health permitting, something to the tune of at least 1,500 yards from scrimmage and six scores this year.